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Shenzhen Isn’t Lining Up to Become a World Class City

Posted: 11/22/2014 4:55 pm

Those who commute using the Shenzhen Metro have heard them so often that they could probably recite them all from memory: the succinct requests for orderliness. “Disembarking precedes embarking” and “please hold the handrail and stand on the right when using the escalator.” But how often do people actually follow these rules?

On a recent Friday afternoon between one and two o’clock (observations were purposely made during non-peak hours) at Grand Theatre station in Luohu District, approximately 80 percent of passengers boarding trains did not wait for disembarking passengers, instead surging ahead at the same time as passengers tried to exit the train. People bumped into each other, pushed and shoved and did whatever it took – but with people moving in both directions in a small space at the same time, it seems like there was no way to proceed that didn’t involve these types of behavior.

“People don’t want to wait for others. They just want to worry about themselves,” Lin said. “When the train comes they just go. They do not think about the message telling them to wait.”

This is common in Shenzhen and in many other parts of China, and not just on the metro. On buses, elevators, escalators and more, people often push and shove, board before people can exit, and generally cause a ruckus despite having ample time to proceed in an orderly fashion.

On that same Friday afternoon at around four o’clock at Happiness Mansion apartment complex in Luohu District, eight out of ten times an elevator arrived at the ground floor, people tried to enter before people had exited. Some who were having a hard time exiting the elevator even recited part of that familiar phrase from the Metro system: ‘前下’ or ‘disembarking comes first’.

On escalators the rule is observed somewhat more closely. On a Thursday afternoon at Jingtian station between noon and one o’clock, approximately 20 percent of people stood on the left even when there was ample space on the right.

When asked about this phenomenon, a station staff member surnamed Sun said people don’t pay attention to the rules during rush hour. He also said operators adjust the amount of time the doors stay open to accommodate for the amount of passengers using the train at any given time. “When there are more people trying to board the train, the doors stay open for longer,” Tan said.

In other words, there is no need to rush into the train because passengers are not in danger of being trapped in the door or left behind as long as they are in line by the time the train arrives and follow the proper procedures.

It is more difficult, however, for station managers to know whether a person inside a train who wants to get off is unable to reach the exit due to people entering first – hence the rule.

‘Let ‘em out!’

Some might assume this is just the way things work in large cities. However, according to people surveyed in New York City, London and Sydney, these rules are followed, and even enforced by the commuters themselves.

Lauren Kraft, an American who has been in Sydney for almost one year, said “almost everyone is awesome” at standing to the right on escalators and letting people moving quickly pass.

Maya Rudolph, who lives in Beijing but lived in New York City for six years, said people usually follow the rule ‘disembarking precedes embarking’, with people often heard yelling the catchphrase “Let ‘em out” when people don’t follow the rules. And although the NYC subway system doesn’t have a lot of escalators, “it’s generally understood that the right side is for standing and left is for passing,” she said.

Charlotte Linton, a longtime Shenzhen expatriate who lived in London for four years and grew up on its outskirts, said people follow the disembarking precedes embarking rule “pretty much always.” As far as the escalator rule, people “always” follow it because “many people in London are in a hurry and they will not take kindly to people blocking the left side of the escalators and slowing them down.” She could not recall a single situation in which people were trying to exit and enter a train simultaneously.

Shenzhen isn’t alone in regards to lack of respect for Metro etiquette; Moscow reportedly has some issues as well. People generally stand on the right and walk on the left of escalators, according to Kristina Bison, an American who lived in Moscow for several years. However, she said things can be a bit of a “free for all” when the doors open to the Metro there during rush hour.

During rush hour, “after a while you kind of forget all the manners and etiquette we were all taught as kids and you…push and shove until you get what you want,” she said. “If you don’t push and shove your way out when that happens, you will never be able to get off the train.”

With Metro workers lacking the authority to punish people for breaking the rules, the problem has become endemic.

“Sometimes people don’t listen to me. All we can do is advise them. We cannot stop them with force. People shouldn’t be in a rush to enter the subway. They should line up. A minority of people are not aware of this rule,” said Huang Zili, team leader of security guards at Grand Theatre Station.

As Shenzhen pushes to become an international city, its leaders might want to consider trying to enforce the small things that make for a more pleasant experience in the city.

  • Just_Banlas

    What is that woman in the left margin of the photo looking at?

    • Neobooper

      Fake Fred Fong kissing Fake Banlas

  • RosietheRiveter

    Eh. First, lots of people line up these days in Shenzhen and are quite polite (though Luohu is always a bit rough). Second, lining up is overrated. Sometimes it’s way more efficient to crowd in to places. Sometimes it’s annoying and sometimes it’s not. The only time it is really an issue for me is on the buses out to Xili, but that’s because there’s not even remotely enough buses here, so it’s always the ‘last helicopter out of Saigon’ syndrome out here.

    • terroir

      “lining up is overrated”

      As per the article, then: being “international” is overrated. Guess they’ll have to prefix the airport with some other word.

      • RosietheRiveter

        Well, there’s plenty of other countries that don’t value lining up, it’s really a British invention, isn’t it?
        I like Kevin and I know we all have our “things” that drive us nuts here. I think I’ve gone native in terms of crowding into places. I flew back to the US recently and everyone waited patiently for the seatbelt light to go off, then took their sweet time getting up, then waited for every single person to slowly, painfully unwedge their giant carry-on bags and lift them to the ground. Getting off the plane took three times as long as in China and I was ready to plow Chinese linebacker style right through all these ‘polite’ people.

        • terroir

          How harmonious of you, bringing “un-internationalism” Stateside. Be sure to share your tales of increased productivity when everyone is pushing at the same time.

          Hey, we all like Kevin.

  • Zen my Ass

    People not keeping the right on escalators and ramming in the metro as the doors open are very annoying: this happens anytime, during the peak and the low hours. People seem totally oblivious to what happens around them here.

  • terroir

    To achieve success, Shenzhen nor any other Chinese city has to “be” international; it just has to “appear” it seems that way–this is why we have the announcements calling for “harmonic order”.

    Any criticisms brought up of being “un-international” will be rebuffed with such evidence, and will be labeled as “bad behavior” by the little people, who then themselves will be targeted with “morality campaigns” that will inspire more “exposes” like here in this story.

    Time is a circle, yo.

  • unplanned_life

    On escalators, all you need is one person standing on left to f**k things up. Almost never will person behind tell them to move.

    The automated announcements saying to let people exit cars first does nothing. People would listen to the subway employees on the platform but they don’t say anything as long as you don’t step over yellow line.

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